The anti-religious conversion law, popularly brandished the “(anti-)Love Jihad” law, is a communal project of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and affiliated right-wing groups, attempting to protect Hindu women, who, under the garb of love and pretext of marriage, unknowingly convert to Islam. This reflection essay aims to map: a) the permeation of a certain ideology, internalised and exercised by the agents of the state; and b) the persistent blurring of lines between “religion as faith” and “religion as politics and power” that preserves the institution of patriarchy.
The (lack of) justice in the status-quo of hierarchical systems
A (free) market capitalist society may operate under a ‘veil of ignorance’ as the identities of the transacting individuals is insignificant to its operation. The Rawlsian conception of citizens is based on identities’ (perceived) independence from a comprehensive doctrine, viz. religion, caste, etc. This, however, does not imply that a policymaker lacks awareness of the existence of differences among these doctrines; they are simply unaware of the (identity) group – dominant or minority, bringing them to power. Rawls’s central argument underpins the need to create a semblance of uniformity and symmetry between individuals and their (primary) needs to minimize conflicts in the attainment of justice.
However, Rawls could have also contended that, unlike a market transaction, policymakers may choose to digress from their ‘original positions’, of which, the veil of ignorance is a primary feature. They may choose to transgress based on the majoritarian beliefs and values that are seen to uphold social relations. Therefore, does consensus always exist among different groups while choosing their representatives? It may not be so, as living in a society does not automatically assume an identity’s consent.
The anti-love jihad law, in this context, portrays the fragility and vulnerability of ties between dominant and minority relations as the institutions – from families to the police, work in cooperation to minimize the average utilities of targeted identities in minority. Counterintuitively, this internalisation of perceived social stability also fits within the Rawlsian interpretation of identities’ (here, Hindu women) attachment to institutions that seemingly benefit them.
a. Limitation of utilitarianism
Conforming to Hindutva politics, the state has overtly upended its (Rawlsian) veil. The theorization of rule utilitarianism justifies state intervention to please its agents – the “anti-Romeo squads”, police, families, and so on. Mill’s “harm principle” remains defenceless because the moralistic pronouncement of the state’s paternalism to prohibit marriages satisfies preferences of a large enough majority, harming, however, the basic right of the so-labelled deviants. In the context of the law, the deviants include Hindu women, Muslim men, or anyone else who may dispute the anti-love jihad Act.
Therefore, even if the majoritarian position harms or infringes individuals’ basic rights, imposing social sanctions might be just (if not legitimate) through the extension of state vigilance over marriages of “informed consent” for the greatest good. According to Nitin Patel, Deputy Chief Minister of Gujarat, the intent to keep Hindu girls and women “safe” forsakes the building of “schools, colleges, to educate (our) girls…”. Here, the political rhetoric implies a southward shift in individuals’ average utilities, as most would benefit from public good properties of interventions in health and education. It also acknowledges the partisan lens of the policymaker who is not operating behind the veil.
b. Contradictory manifestation of (patriarchal) value appropriation
While Nozick argued that Rawls’s principles may be contradictory as state intervention violates human rights by the virtue of its position, Nozick’s entitlement theory may lead to more inequality (and inequity) over time. The institution of ‘Brahmanical patriarchy’ underpins the need to control women’s bodies and maintain “patrilineal succession” and “caste purity” in a Hindu society. Extrapolating Nozick’s principles of appropriation in this context, the (initial) appropriation of patriarchal values preserves this institution, justifying the limitations on women’s, and minority group’s personal liberty.
The informal and unconstitutional institutions such as the Khap Panchayats, Katta Panchayats, and Shalishi Adalats are, therefore, entitled to harass couples and their families of physical (and mental) harm and social exclusion under the supposedly (un)free exchange of bringing deviants, marrying outside of own caste, religion, ethnicity, etc., under the social equilibrium. If people are ends in themselves, how does the continuity of patriarchy – a socially entitled institution – enable self-ownership, a point of virtue in Nozick’s theory, of women’s (own) bodies? Rather, state intervention, by way of the law, amplifies the role of the regulatory institution(s) for supporting the structure of society’s natural, and therefore, patriarchal inclinations.
This (lack of) collective consciousness, targeting women and minority groups, seeps through the structure and its agents act as seemingly incontrovertible truths. Here, the ideology underpinning the structure, percolating through several actors, creates a semblance of stability, which is nothing but oppressive and discriminatory. Patriarchy’s symmetrical influence justifies defying the foundational principles of secularism and eliciting productive control over agents, across the spectrum and including the deviants. Even under the existing Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954, couples belonging to different faiths are prone to social ostracism as the magistrate invites “objections” for a month’s time to the marriage, publicly displaying couple names on notice boards and informing the families by post. Therefore, the social institutions – the magistrate, families of interfaith couples, vigilante groups, etc. – are well-ordered as justice is determined from the lens of these overarching institutions, which, if not willingly accepted, is perpetuated through its internalisation by the deviating agents.
Rawls conceptualises a utopian state which needs no illusions or delusions; however, the tendency of the state’s agents, including its deviants, accept and/or internalise the delusion of love jihad, transgressing justice as fairness for a utilitarian greatest [assumed] good for the greatest number and morally right action. The current patriarchal structure inhibits women’s agency through its visible hands by way of the ordinance, restricting their right to life and freedom and practising religion under Article 25. It is a consciously designed system that takes roots in a regressive bias of women as dependent beings of the “legitimate” institutions – families – and the “surveillance” state, persistently infantilizing them in the name of religion. These inhibitory (majority) agents consent to their representative’s ability to exercise the continuity of a rationality that, in turn, curbs minority identities’ indefeasible claim on basic rights. Conclusively, if justice entails a conscious exercise to curb one’s basic rights, accepted and internalised by many, it does not make it just. The anti-love jihad law, therefore, since its inception, is not grounded in the creation of a just society based on Rawlsian values of reciprocity and cooperation.
Tanya Rana is an M.A. Public Policy candidate at the Jindal School of Government & Public Policy, O.P. Jindal Global University. She is interested in exploring the economic and non-economic transactions in any society from a feminist standpoint.